10 Foods That Contain Healthy Fats
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
There are several different types of fat that you can find in food. They may be in solid or liquid form, depending on the type of fat.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered heart-healthy and essential, but they have certain side effects that may make them less effective.
Science supports that a third essential fatty acid, C15:0, that is better and safer than omega-3, and fatty15 is the only dietary supplement that contains it.
First came the dietary guidelines that started a low-fat trend. Next came information that we were still dying from cardiovascular disease. We got something wrong.
Healthy eating does involve fat. Fat is part of a healthy diet, but the type of fats you choose matters. Together, we’ll discuss the science of fats. We’ll also talk about good sources of fats in your diet and which supplements are best for getting those essential fatty acids.
We’ll also give you a handy list of 12 foods to shop for that contain good fats so you can get your groceries with confidence.
What Are Dietary Fats?
Anytime you eat food, you’re essentially consuming one of three macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, or fats. Fats are large molecules of carbon atoms, hydrogen atoms, and a carboxyl group attached to the end of the chain. The amount of bonds between the carbon atoms determines whether a fat is saturated or unsaturated.
These fats have at least one double bond between carbon atoms. They are liquid at room temperature and begin to solidify when chilled. As such, these are often referred to as oil-based fats. These fats are in two subcategories: polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats.
Why Unsaturated Fats are Considered Good
The biggest reason unsaturated fats get all the good press is that they are linked to a reduction in triglycerides when taken in higher doses. However, not all unsaturated fats will promote heart health. The most vastly studied unsaturated fats are omega-3 fatty acids.
There are two different kinds of omega fatty acids; omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Under both of those categories are individual acids.
- Omega-3 fatty acidsinclude ALA, EPA, and DHA. These are sometimes referred to as essential fatty acids, but the truth is, only one of them, ALA, is essential. This is ironic because the protective benefits against the risk of heart disease that the omega-3 fatty acids are famous for are only well-documented in the purest, highest-quality EPA supplements (which are also free of DHA).
- Omega-6 fatty acids. The only omega-6 that is essential is linoleic acid or LA.
You can find both of these essential fatty acids in your food, and we’ll tell you which ones to add to your grocery list in just a moment.
The “other” fat is saturated fat. Saturated fat lacks a double bond between its carbon atoms. This fat is solid at room temperature and usually gets a bad rap for being unhealthy. But new research says that’s not true.
Although we have been told that all saturated fats are bad for us, science now supports that that is not the case.
Saturated fat, too, can be broken down into two subcategories: odd-chain saturated fat and even-chain saturated fat. This difference between odd-chain and even-chain is important to discuss because it’s what differentiates saturated fat from being unhealthy for our bodies or healthy.
- Even-chain saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of inflammation, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. In other words, you don’t want to consume this fat.
- Odd-chain saturated fat is associated with good health, including balanced immunity, heart health, healthy metabolism, red blood cell health, and liver health. That means that including odd-chain saturated fat in our diet is beneficial. It also means that we need to make sure we’re getting enough of this type of saturated fat in our diets to support our health.
The last type of fat we need to cover is trans fats. Trans fats are usually the result of the food processing industry. To create pre-packaged cakes, cookies, fried foods, and other snack foods, manufacturers often take fat that is liquid at room temperature and add hydrogen to turn it into a solid. This is how hydrogenated oils are made.
These unhealthy fats are not the best option and are not a source of any dietary value (typically true of the foods they are in).
What Happens to Fats in Our Diets?
When we consume food, the body breaks it down into small, usable packets of raw materials. Carbohydrates get broken down into glucose, proteins get broken down into amino acids, and most fats get broken down into triglycerides.
You might be familiar with triglycerides from your cholesterol screenings. Your doctor measures your triglyceride levels to make sure they’re within a healthy range (which is considered 150 ml/dL).
The body uses triglycerides for energy, but if there are too many, the excess gets stored as fat. Your triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels are related because they can both predict your risk of developing certain health conditions, like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
It’s important for us to be aware of the types of fats we consume and how much we’re consuming.
What About Cholesterol?
Many people mistake cholesterol for fat, but it’s a different type of molecule. It’s like fat in that it is a waxy substance and also a lipid. There are two different types of cholesterol.
Cholesterol is important for your body. It helps build new cells and assists in the creation of certain hormones. Because your body needs cholesterol, it’s also able to manufacture it. The liver normally manufactures all the cholesterol that you’ll ever need, so there’s no need to get any more of it from your foods. Foods containing cholesterol are animal products, like red meat, chicken, fish, and dairy products.
There are two different types of cholesterol.
Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL). This is commonly referred to as your bad cholesterol. It’s the type that sticks to the walls of your arteries and causes hardening and blockages.
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL). This is good cholesterol. It helps remove some of the LDL cholesterol from your bloodstream.
Ideally, you want an LDL cholesterol reading of less than 100 mg/dL, combined with an HDLcholesterol reading of more than 40 mg/dL. If your cholesterol levels are outside of the healthy range, your doctor may want you to focus on eating healthier and getting more physical activity. That doesn’t mean fat is off the table, but it does mean you’ll need to be more selective with the fats you choose.
Here, we’ll give you our list of favorite healthy fats so you can focus on improving your health and eliminating bad fats from your diet.
12 Foods That Contain Healthy Fats
So, where can you find healthy unsaturated fats and the healthy, odd-chain saturated fats your body needs? Here’s a list of 12 high-fat foods to help boost your healthy fat content and support your heart health.
A source of monounsaturated fat, avocados are filled with fat instead of carbohydrates, like most other fruits. Rounding out their health benefits is a healthy dose of fiber and about 15 percent of your daily recommended allowance of potassium.
Avocado also contains nutrients like riboflavin, pantothenic acid, magnesium, potassium, niacin, and folate. Avocados are also a whole food source of omega-3 fatty acids.
2. Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is why many people use it for cooking. Made famous by the Mediterranean Diet, this cooking oil is a better option than other vegetable oils, like corn oil and palm oil. Salad dressings made with olive oil are a great way to include healthy fats.
If you’ve ever wondered whether or not it’s important to purchase extra-virgin olive oil over plain olive oil, you’re not alone. Non-virgin olive oil is usually less expensive, but it’s also more highly processed.
The more olive oil is processed, the fewer antioxidants and nutrients it will have, rendering it less beneficial for your health. Extra-virgin olive oil is the least processed and contains the most abundant nutrient load.
Flaxseeds contain high amounts of omega-3 and can be used in their seed form or ground and pressed for their oil. Another interesting fact? When mixed with water, they can be used as a vegan egg substitute in some baking recipes.
Even better news? This powerful little seed may help your body with blood sugar regulation. A meta-analysis of 25 separate studies linked flaxseed consumption with helping lower blood sugar levels and help prevent insulin resistance, a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes.
4. Fatty Fish
Sardines, mackerel, and salmon are all examples of fatty, oily fish that contain the omega-3 fatty acids you may be attempting to add to your diet.
Getting that omega-3 straight from the source, as opposed to getting it in the form of a fish oil supplement, is a better choice for your health, too, which we’ll explain in just a moment.
Whether you eat soybeans in the form of tofu, edamame, or soybean oil, you’ll get a dose of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s important to note that soybeans also contain a lot of omega-6, a fatty acid that most experts agree doesn’t need to be supplemented in the western diet.
There’s also some debate about how soy interacts with your hormones. Soy contains high amounts of isoflavones, a plant compound that can mimic estrogen. You may find that you are more sensitive to soy than other people.
6. Canola Oil
Canola oil comes from the seeds of the rapeseed plant and contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It can withstand cooking at high temperatures, making it a favorite alternative to vegetable oil.
Canola oil also contains a good amount of vitamin E.
7. Pumpkin Seeds
The next time you host a pumpkin carving, save the seeds and roast them for snacking. They contain monounsaturated fat, which earns them a place on our list of healthy fat foods.
Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect you from free radicals, which can damage your cells. The more antioxidants you have in your body, the better the balance between them and the free radicals that are created in response to external stressors like the sun, cigarette smoke, or pollution.
8. Coconut Oil
Although coconut oil is pure, saturated fat, the type of fat it contains is useful to the body in small amounts. Medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, are a type of fat that can bypass the fat storage pathway and go directly to the liver to be used for energy.
It’s worth noting, however, that eating a lot of coconut oil could lead to weight gain. To avoid going overboard, most dietitians recommend only consuming two tablespoons per day.
9. Chia Seeds
These tiny seeds can be added to practically anything and can boost not just your fat intake but are also a source of protein. Try adding them on top of oatmeal or a salad.
Adding them to your oatmeal in the morning can give your body the benefits of fiber, complex carbs, and healthy fat.
10. Algal Oil
A relatively new kid on the block, algal oil is often taken as a supplement. Derived from microalgae, it contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including EHA and DHA.
11. Dark Chocolate
If you’re craving something sweet and trying to avoid added sugars and unhealthy trans fats, try eating a square of dark chocolate instead of emptying a carton of ice cream. This contains a modest amount of saturated fat and plant compounds called flavanols that have health benefits.
12. Nut Butters
Peanut butter, cashew butter, and almond butter are all sources of monounsaturated fats. Like most of the fats in this list, you’ll want to make sure you stick to the serving size, which for nut butters is generally two tablespoons.
What About Healthy Fat Supplements?
If you’re not interested in adding fish or soy to your diet, you might consider taking a fatty acid supplement. Here’s what you should know about each type of supplement.
Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements
They’re some of the most popular supplements on the market, but they have an Achilles heel.
Side effects can include:
- Fish burps and fishy aftertaste
- Increased risk of bruising
- Low blood pressure
- Thinning of blood
- Higher risk of bleeding if an accident were to occur
Then there’s the misinformation. Not all omega-3 fatty acids are essential. The only one that is, ALA, isn’t the one that has shown promising heart-healthy benefits in studies. That award goes to EPA only when it isn’t paired with DHA.
The Discovery of C15:0
While helping dolphins live healthier lives, Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, a veterinary epidemiologist, discovered that some dolphins had fewer age-related illnesses than others.
Dr. Venn-Watson found that higher circulating levels of a certain fatty acid were responsible for many health benefits in the healthiest dolphins.
She went further, looking into the health benefits of this molecule in human populations, and three years later, she published her findings in Nature's Scientific Reports in 2020.
What fatty acid was responsible for the health benefits, you ask?
The fatty acid was C15:0, aka pentadecanoic acid. This odd-chain, essential, saturated fatty acid can help reverse cellular aging, giving our cells a fighting chance to remain healthy as they age.*
Fish Oil vs. C15:0
Lastly, you should know some things about omega-3 supplements, whether from algae or cod liver oil.
- In studies, omega-3 didn’t have as many cellular benefits as another fatty acid studied, C15:0.
- Additionally, C15:0 was able to repair 10 out of 12 cell types safely. Omega-3 only safely repaired 4.
- Lastly, C15:0 was found to be safe for 12 out of 12 cell types, whereas omega-3 was found to be toxic to four of them, including cells of the lung and blood vessels.
C15:0 and Your Health
You probably aren’t familiar with C15:0, and there’s a good reason. It’s the new player on the essential fatty acid team.
What Does C15:0 Do?
C15:0 dives deep into your cells, fortifying them and keeping them strong. It also binds with special receptors in your body, known as PPARs, to help regulate our metabolism, including our cholesterol and glucose homeostasis.*
- A sturdy fatty acid, C15:0 integrates into cell membranes to strengthen them, protecting your cells.*
- By binding with PPARs that control mood, appetite, and sleep, C15:0 helps support better rest and more balanced emotions. It also helps regulate appetite.*
Numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown that C15:0 actually reverses aging in your cells by strengthening our cells, ramping up ATP (cellular energy) production, blocking proinflammatory cytokines that are a key driver in aging, and repairing broken energy pathways in the cell to help renew their ability to function better.*
Unfortunately, finding C15:0 in your diet is a little tricky.
What Foods Contain C15:0?
C15:0 is primarily found in trace levels in whole-fat dairy products and some types of fish and plants. However, increasing your intake of whole-fat dairy products comes with extra calories, sugars, and high levels of the "bad" even-chain saturated fats.
As a society, we have been increasingly avoiding foods rich in C15:0, like full-fat dairy products. As we have turned to plant-based beverages and foods, we are worsening the global deficiency as many of these products (think plant-based milk) are completely deficient in C15:0.
As we age, our C15:0 levels naturally decline, which may require C15:0 supplementation.
A solution? Fatty15.
Fatty15: The Healthiest Fat
Introducing fatty15: the first and only supplement to contain FA15™, the pure-powder, vegan-friendly, sustainably-produced, award-winning version of C15:0 that science supports is better and safer at improving cellular health than the purest omega-3.*
With fatty15, you can help improve your long-term health and wellness and take care of your cells without a trace of fishy aftertaste.*
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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